Andy McSmith's Diary: Anna Soubry threatens to sue while the Wicca give the army a boost

The Minister for Welfare rejected claims she had sworn at Ed Miliband

How appropriate it would seem that Britain’s first female defence minister should swear like a trooper. But Anna Soubry, Minister for Welfare, Personnel and Veterans at the Ministry of Defence, said: “No, absolutely not, never, never, and if you print that I will sue” on being accused of shouting an obscenity at Ed Miliband during Prime Minister’s Questions.

The incident was part of the footage filmed by the crew working on Michael Cockerell’s series for BBC 2, Inside the Commons. It was pulled from the programme at the last minute, because somebody from the BBC leaked a story that she could be heard shouting “sanctimonious c***,” whereupon she threatened legal action.

The clip was later leaked to Buzzfeed, who published it on a loop. Listening to it is like being subjected to an audio mind trick. She definitely shouted ‘sanctimonious’ but then the camera pulled away and the noun that follows is whatever you expect it to be. Tell herself that she said ‘c***’ and you clearly hear that word. Tell yourself it was ‘rubbish’, and you equally clearly hear ‘rubbish’. About the only thing you won’t hear is ‘long term economic plan’.

Wicca going to war

Speaking of military personnel, I hope no one will think me sanctimonious if I say that the armed forces have not excelled at recruiting people from non-Christian religions. Out of 160,000 serving in the army, navy or RAF last year, fewer than 3,000 were from the world non-Christian religions, according to data released after a Freedom of Information request. That small number included 10 druids, 100 pagans, 30 spiritualists, and 20 who gave their religion as wicca, a comparatively recent belief system based on paganism and witchcraft. Why waste ammunition shooting the enemy when you can turn them into frogs?

Sadly, Axelrod ignores Miliband and Britain

Excitedly, I turn the pages of Believer, the newly published memoirs of the former White House strategist David Axelrod, looking for what he has to say about his recent assignment on this side of the Atlantic, advising Ed Miliband on how to win votes. But disappointment follows: there is no reference anywhere to Miliband, or the Labour Party. It is almost as if Axelrod does not think British politics matters.

Fairbairn would have gone further to curb journalists

On the day when Hacked Off rallied in Parliament to demand stricter curbs on intrusive journalism, as recommended by Lord Leveson, I learn that Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, a government law officer from the Thatcher years, would have gone even further. The Perth and Kinross Courier reports that just before he died in 1995, he wrote to the Standards Committee suggesting that it should be illegal for newspapers to report the sex lives of politicians.

While Fairbairn was Solicitor General for Scotland, a Commons secretary attempted suicide outside his flat because they had had an affair and he had abandoned her. Margaret Thatcher reluctantly accepted his resignation soon afterwards because of his grossly insensitive handling of a rape case. Recently a woman came forward to say that Fairbairn had sexually abused and raped when she was a child, aged about four. So you begin to see why he believed that a politician’s sex life should not be hidden from public view.

Sir Nicholas, by the way, agreed with Sir Malcolm Rifkind that MPs are underpaid. He valued his own contribution to Parliament at £250,000 a year.

What will Rifkind's son write about?

Hugo Rifkind, Sir Malcolm’s son, and a journalist on The Times, writes a very witty parody every Saturday of the pompous ‘My Week’ type diary columns that appear in other publications. The one before last, inspired by Michael Cockerell’s documentary, began by saying “the annoying thing about MPs is the way they all seem to think they’re so bloody special.” Respect to him if he can find anything funny to write about this week’s main political talking point.

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